“The Happy Union of the Sturgeon and the Codfish …”

The cod and pumpkin weathervane atop Albany Academy.
The cod and pumpkin weathervane atop Albany Academy.

The Western Railroad, better known as the Boston & Albany Railroad, was essentially completed in the fall of 1841, after five years of construction. Difficulties in financing, the Panic of 1837, political intrigues, and engineering challenges (especially the bridging of the Connecticut River) had all contributed to the delay. But its completion was hailed as a major achievement which brought about a ‘new and permanent union’ of the States of New York and Massachusetts.

Springfield Depot, 1841
Springfield Depot, 1841

To commemorate the event, the company invited the executive officers and legislators of both states to a celebration in Springfield, Massachusetts. Springfield was the ‘midpoint’ of the line and the location of a major depot and yard. On March 4, 1842, special trains arrived at the Springfield depot from Boston and Albany (actually, Greenbush) carrying the invited dignitaries. They then moved to the Masonic lodge, where speeches were given by Governor Davis of Massachusetts and Governor Seward of New York. The party then moved to the Springfield Town Hall for a sumptuous dinner.

After dinner, as was customary at formal gatherings such as these, a series of toasts were raised to the company, the success of the railroad, to the prosperity of the two states. But the final word was given to ‘General’ Erastus Root, a Senator from Delaware County, New York, who had spent the previous forty years of his life in one legislative seat or another, and who was referred to as the ‘father of the Senate.’ He raised a glass and gave the following memorable toast: “The happy union of the Sturgeon and the Codfish: may their joyous nuptials efface the melancholy recollection of the departure of the Connecticut river Salmon!”

Erastus Root, 1823
Erastus Root, 1823

OK, so General Root’s toast may seem obscure to some, so a note of explanation: Ever since the first English colonists landed at Plymouth, the codfish had been a New England staple. And sturgeon was, until the turn of the 20th century, so abundant in the Hudson River that the fish was sometimes known as ‘Albany beef.’ Finally, the Connecticut River had been the largest salmon spawning area on the Atlantic coast, until the damming of the river in 1798 led to the extinction of Connecticut River salmon just a few years later. So, just a piscatorial metaphor describing the clasping of three bodies of water with a band of iron!

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